Newcastle Falcons secured their place in the play-offs with a 50-3 triumph over Cornish Pirates at Kingston Park.
After the postponement of the original fixture which was due to take place in January, there were doubts whether tonight’s contest would go ahead when early morning snowfall put the game in jeopardy.
But in adversity the Falcons’ coaching staff, academy staff and standby players, spearheaded by director of rugby Dean Richards, pulled together to clear the snow from the pitch.
The Falcons registered the first score of the game on two minutes through skipper Will Welch, who crashed over from close range. A marauding carry from Ally Hogg down the short side got the hosts within five metres of the try line before referee Stephen Lee awarded the Falcons a penalty.
Jimmy Gopperth turned down the option of three points in favour of a kick to touch. And the decision paid dividends, with the Falcons claiming clean ball at the lineout to unleash Welch for the try. Gopperth converted for an early 7-0 advantage.
Buoyed by a period of sustained pressure, the Pirates reduced the deficit to 7-3 by virtue of an Aaron Paemberthy penalty from almost half-way. But like a wounded animal, the Falcons responded in emphatic fashion courtesy of a James Hudson try.
Tom Catterick broke clear down the short side, before offloading to Ryan Shortland on the overlap who in turn fed Mark Wilson with Hudson close in support. The radar boot of Gopperth made no mistake to extend his side’s lead to 14-3.
As the affair crossed the half-hour mark the Falcons notched up their third try of the night thanks to Scott MacLeod. Kiwi Shortland, who was making quite an impression with a series of blistering runs, earned the Falcons perfect field position. From the breakdown Grant Shiells and Matt Thompson had strong hit-ups, before Scotland international MacLeod took the initiative to burrow his way over the line. Gopperth was unable to add the extras but the Falcons held the upper hand at 19-3.
And on the stroke of half-time the Kingston Park club sealed the try bonus point with the forward line at the heart of things once more. Tomaszczyk this time added the final touches after the pack demonstrated their superiority up-front. Gopperth’s simple conversion gave the Falcons a 26-3 half-time lead.
With barely a minute played in the second period Hudson thought he had grabbed his brace for the evening when he took a flat pass at the breakdown to storm in under the posts. Fists clenched and punching the air, the towering lock’s ecstasy was short-lived as referee Stephen Lee halted play for an infringement at the ruck.
However, camped inside the Pirates’ 22, the Falcons would not be denied their fifth touchdown with Lawson scooting over from a five metre scrum. Gopperth sliced the conversion to the right of the near posts but Newcastle were now 31-3 in front.
The Tyneside outfit were now in the groove with Welch doubling his tally for the night, Catterick providing the assist although there were suspicions that his pass to the floor had trickled forward.
Gopperth nailed the conversion to make it 38-3.
Taiasina Tu’ifua’s no-nonsense burst through the middle provided the impetus for the Falcons’ seventh score. Thwarted just short of the line by a scrambling Cornish rear-guard, replacement scrum-half Warren Fury switched play to the left where Jamie Helleur was lurking with intent to touchdown.
Six minutes from time the northeasterners rubber-stamped their supremacy with Gopperth coasting down the line to touchdown after some neat handling in the backline. Gopperth’s audacious touchline conversion ensured an impressive 50-3 victory.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andy Higgins, 13 Michael Tait, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Scott MacLeod, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 James Hall, 18 James Goode, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett
Cornish Pirates: 15 Wes Dvies, 14 Ben Mercer, 13 Grant Pointer, 12 Tom Bedford, 11 Ashley Smith, 10 Aaron Pemberthy, 9 Tom Kessell, 1 Ryan Storer, 2 Darren Semmens, 3 Peter Joyce, 4 Gary Johnson (c), 5 Darren Barry, 6 Phil Burgess, 7 Alex Cheesman, 8 James Tyas
Replacements: 16 Ben Prescott, 17 Rob Elloway, 18 Paul Andrew, 19 David Lyons, 20 Kyle Marriott, 21 Owen Hambly, 22 Tom Riley
Attendance: 2, 208